Yesterday, blogger Michelle Barrow made waves with an xoJane article entitled, “It Happened to Me: My Gynecologist Found a Ball of Cat Hair in My Vagina.” Women blogging about losing things in their vaginas is something of a modern internet trope — xoJane has contributed to the field several times, as have Jezebel, Vice, and the very blog you are reading.
Barrow owns two cats, who shed heavily and used to sleep on her bed. When a visit to her gynecologist revealed a two-inch wad of fibers tangled in the dangling strings of her IUD, the doctor theorized that the material in question was tampon detritus. But, writes Barrow, “I'm a Diva Cup girl and I've never used tampons regularly.” When her doctor extricates the wad, Barrow realizes “these ‘tampon fibers’ look exactly like the piles of goo that [her cat] Donut hacks up every few days.”
Though stuff-stuck-in-my-vagina blog posts are common, this story was so strange that even those with expertise in the field cast doubt. “Sorry but I call bullshit on the cat-hair-in-the-vagina lady,” tweeted Jezebel founding editor Anna Holmes, who questioned the logistics of tiny cat hairs getting shoved up a vagina with enough frequency to create a two-inch wad. (Barrow believes the cats shed on her bed, and then her boyfriend’s penis pushed the debris into her vagina, where it collected over time. “Listen, I believe that she found something stuck up her vagina but I don't think it was cat hair,” Holmes clarified by email.) I assumed the post was a hoax or perhaps cat-lady parody — until I Facebook-chatted Michelle Barrow, who gamely answered all my questions from her mobile phone while walking down the street in her hometown of Baltimore.
Maureen O'Connor, 11:03 a.m.
Did you really write that cat hair story? It's so nuts. I actually thought maybe it was a fake-out at first, like this: “Gym Bro Successfully Gets Fake Feminist Thought Catalog Essay Published.”
Michelle Barrow, 11:04 a.m.
Yeah, a lot of people seem to have that impression but I promise I wouldn't make that up. Now I wish I'd taken a picture of it!
Maureen: Oh my god!!! You are a DGAF hero?
Michelle: Haha, I dunno if that's a good thing? I just thought it was too funny/gross not to share!
Maureen: It's definitely good! DGAF = don't give a fuck, which is the ultimate power one can have on the internet and as a person, I think.
Michelle: Also I figure enough women are ashamed about their bodies that I can own up and laugh at how weird mine is.
Maureen: I am honestly in awe. Like, it's hard to come up with something that shocks the internet, you know?
Michelle: It's funny to me because it never crossed my mind that it would be so shocking. I’ve read so many stories about forgotten tampons and dildos and whatnot that I figured this would blend right in. In hindsight I realize how ballsy it was to write it under my own name, but that was more out of naïveté than bravery!
Maureen: Do you think it was actually tampon fiber, though? I feel like if tampon fiber was ... moldering ... in a vagina for long enough ... it'd turn gray, right?
Michelle: I know it wasn't a tampon because: (1) I know for a fact that I removed both of them, and (2) It was big enough that it would have been at least half a tampon, which I would've noticed when I removed it
It's definitely possible that a few fibers got stuck and that's what started everything but I am very confident that there was also cat hair in the mix
Maureen: OH MY GOD it was half the size of a tampon?? ... Do you wear underwear when you sleep?
Michelle: Up until all of this I didn’t, which was probably a big contributing factor. When I told my sister the story she cringed and said, "That has always been my nightmare and it's the reason I always wear underwear to bed!" Now I definitely do
Maureen: I feel like part of people's skepticism is that we're sort of discovering that, like, different vaginas have different let-stuff-in capacities?
Michelle: Yeah exactly. A few people have said stuff like, "I’ve had cats all my life and they always sleep with me and this has never happened so you must be lying!"
Michelle: When actually like our bodies are capable of being different, you know? I didn't write it because I wanted to warn everyone with an IUD and cats that they were doomed. I just think it's amazing, the sheer number of crazy things that can go wrong with vaginas.
Maureen: Do you think, like ... maybe something weird was happening in your sleep? ... I might be accusing your cats of rape right now? ... owiej;fojdrg I can't believe I just said that to a stranger.
Michelle: Haha, your thoroughness is impressive! We actually make the cats sleep in the basement because otherwise they keep us up all night, so it's definitely not that.
Maureen: Law & Order SVU: Feline Edition.
Michelle: This whole convo is making me feel a whole lot better after a morning of questioning whether I made an idiotic mistake by writing the damn thing, so thank you!
Maureen: NO WAY. I am seriously learning about the diversity of vaginas and strange things that can happen in beds right now. I want the world to know you are real, and affirm that this really happened. And to challenge everyone to think about WHY they were so skeptical. Perhaps it has something to do with, hmm, I don't know. Denial?
Michelle: Also, please state for the record that I do, in fact, practice good hygiene. I shower daily and wash my sheets every other week. For some reason that accusation has been bugging me the most. I think the moral of the story is that vaginas are crazy mysterious enigmas that we will never really understand, so we may as well just write about how weird they are on the internet.
Maureen: I also feel like I learned a valuable lesson about trusting women to talk about their own bodies. I believe your cat hair theory, now. I feel ashamed that I ever doubted you.
Michelle: I appreciate that you kept an open mind.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.